Don’t build new detention centers for asylum seekers in Europe

Published: 17th September 2018

EU plans for ‘controlled centers’ for asylum seekers mean more innocent people – including children – will be forced to live in de-facto detention centers, Oxfam said today. The plans, to be discussed at an informal EU summit in Salzburg this week, will not help the EU to better manage migration, but they will create needless suffering.

After all-night discussions at the last EU summit in June, EU leaders declared their intention to set up centers for the “rapid and secure processing” of migrants. These would distinguish refugees from other migrants who would then be returned to their countries of origin. Countries have the right to assess, in a fair and transparent way, who is entitled to protection in Europe. But the new plans mean that people rescued in the Mediterranean would be automatically detained as soon as they arrive, infringing upon their fundamental rights.

What’s more, details that have emerged from European Commission documents to date suggest that the ‘controlled centers’ would be very similar to the existing ‘EU hotspots’ where people seeking asylum are held in Greece and Italy. These camps are overcrowded and have passed breaking-point. On the Greek island of Lesvos, for instance, the official ’hotspot’ camp is at three times its capacity, forcing 8,000 people to live in tents and containers or to sleep in the open. The camp has just one doctor dealing with all medical screenings upon people’s arrival on the island. Camps often lack the most basic of necessities like running water, and women and children are at a high risk of violence and abuse.

Instead of duplicating a system that is fundamentally flawed, Oxfam calls on all EU heads of state and government to urgently reform Europe’s asylum system, in line with an existing proposal from the European Parliament, which proposes to share responsibility evenly between member states.

Oxfam's Policy Advisor on Migration, Raphael Shilhav, said:

“EU leaders are knowingly designing policies which condemn desperate people to live in unsafe and unfit shelters. Those seeking safety and dignity deserve a chance to rebuild their lives.

“The European Parliament has presented fair and sustainable options for managing migration, yet our leaders keep opting for measures that will increase the pressure on frontline member states like Greece and Italy. They must work together to find a solution that upholds the rights of asylum seekers and addresses the legitimate expectations of Europeans to have a well-managed asylum system.”

All the evidence suggests that the EU’s proposal to use detention-like centers as the primary response to asylum seekers is misguided. Existing ‘EU hotspots’ do not work as a deterrent for migrants even if they are intended to – because the people who cross the Mediterranean are willing to risk everything for safety and dignity.

At their Salzburg meeting, EU leaders will also discuss proposed arrangements to disembark migrants rescued in the Mediterranean in countries outside the EU, for instance in North Africa. Given that EU member states are struggling to provide adequate care and a fair process for people within its borders, it is difficult to see how 'disembarkation platforms' organized by the EU outside of its own territory will be any better.

Notes to editors

Contact information

Florian Oel | Brussels | | office +32 2 234 11 15 | mobile +32 473 56 22 60

For updates, please follow @Oxfam and @OxfamEU